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Kim Fu's ‘For Today I Am A Boy’: Book Review

BY GARTH GREENWELL

Early in this uncommonly moving debut novel—the last book I read in 2014, and one of the best—the young narrator, Peter Huang, goes to the movies with his adored older sister Adele. The theater plays old movies, and they watch Sabrina, the classic film starring Audrey Hepburn. Sitting with his beautiful sister, heartbroken that in a few weeks Adele will leave for college, Peter sees in Hepburn an impossible ideal, an embodiment of the kind of woman he feels sure he was meant to be.

FuBut everything in Peter’s life seems designed to keep him from anything like an authentic self. The child of Chinese immigrants in a small Canadian town, Peter is the only boy in a family of four children, the answer to his father’s prayers. Peter’s father is in some ways desperate to assimilate—he refuses to speak Cantonese and forbids his wife from cooking their native cuisine—but he has deeply traditional ideas about gender and the duties of children. He gives Peter the Chinese name Juan Chaun, “powerful king,” and expects him to act accordingly.

But Peter can’t be the son his father wants, and he lives for stolen moments when he can imagine himself into a different life. Alone in the afternoons after school, he puts on his mother’s apron and cleans the house, then cooks a meal his sister will take credit for. When his father discovers that his son has been doing “women’s work,” his response is immediate and cruel.

Peter does find allies in his small town, people he can begin to share his secrets with, but it isn’t until he moves to Montreal as a young man that he has his first glimpses of queer life. And even here he can’t let himself make use of his new freedom. Years after he leaves home, even after his father’s death, Peter is still ruled by his parents’ expectations. He feels not just shame at being trans, but absolute certainty that anything like a full life is impossible.

It’s not surprising, then, that Peter’s first sexual experiences are bound up with violence. In one of the book’s most powerful sequences, he enters into an abusive relationship with a much older woman, who stages scenes of sexual sadism and racist humiliation. In a devastating scene, this woman dresses Peter as a woman and then chokes him in front of a mirror, so that “I could watch my own blissful face white out slowly, glowing like an angel’s, until I passed out.”

Kim FuStructured in short, intense fragments and poetic scenes, Kim Fu’s novel follows Peter’s life over three decades, and one of its strengths is that Peter’s coming of age doesn’t fit into any easy narrative of liberation. Even when he does fall in with a group of young people who seem entirely comfortable with their queer identities, with rich lives and loving relationships, Peter’s response, at least at first, is to feel less relieved than enraged. 

“Who were these kids?” Peter asks himself. “What right had they to be born into a world where they were taught to look endlessly into themselves…To ask themselves, and not be told, whether they were boys or girls?”

The novel doesn’t offer any easy answers to Peter’s questions, or to other questions he asks about family and gender and sex. It certainly resists any sense that there are ready-made answers to those questions, or that they can be resolved in anything other than individual, divergent, and partial ways.

In fact, the novel suggests, Peter’s best chance at happiness may not be in the urban queer community Montreal offers, but instead where he began, within his difficult, fractured family, and especially in his relationships with his three sisters, each of them desperate for a wholeness their lives seem to refuse them.

For Today I Am a Boy is an extraordinarily accomplished first novel, and Fu is a thrilling new voice. She’s at once compassionate toward her characters and uncompromising in her refusal of the usual novelistic resolutions of questions that remain intractable in lived experience. Lyrical, sometimes brutal, always beautiful, this is a brilliant book. 

Previous reviews...
Joyce Brabner’s ‘Second Avenue Caper
Shelly Oria’s ‘New York 1, Tel Aviv 0’
Colm Tóibín’s ‘Nora Webster’
Saeed Jones’s ‘Prelude to Bruise’
 
Garth Greenwell is the author of Mitko, which won the 2010 Miami University Press Novella Prize and was a finalist for the Edmund White Debut Fiction Award and a Lambda Award. His new novel, What Belongs to You, is forthcoming from Farrar, Straus and Giroux in September 2015. He lives in Iowa City, where he is an Arts Fellow at the University of Iowa Writers’ Workshop. Connect with him on Facebook and Twitter.


SNL's Obama Pushes 'Schoolhouse Rock' Bill Down Capitol Steps in Immigration Reform Spoof: VIDEO

Schoolhouse

Saturday Night Live's cold open last night brought us all back to the beloved Saturday morning Schoolhouse Rock educational short cartoons that educated us on science, history, grammar, and government.

This time it was the familiar "I'm Only a Bill" which was given a twist thanks to this week's Executive Order from Obama on immigration reform.

Watch it all go down, and down, AFTER THE JUMP...

Continue reading "SNL's Obama Pushes 'Schoolhouse Rock' Bill Down Capitol Steps in Immigration Reform Spoof: VIDEO" »


LGBT Groups Remain 'Deeply' Dissatisfied with President Obama's Immigration Order

Obama

President Obama's announced executive action to provide temporary relief from deportation to millions of undocumented immigrants was met with lukewarm reception from LGBT rights groups concerned the proposal leaves out a disproportionate number of undocumented LGBT immigrants. 

Said Francisco Dueñas, Director of Diversity, Inclusion and Proyecto Igualdad at Lambda Legal:

"While we praise President Obama’s efforts to do what is in his executive power to improve immigration, we are deeply disappointed that his plan unfairly excludes many members of the LGBT community.  President Obama’s plan allows immigrants who have children who are citizens or  lawful permanent residents to obtain legal work documents and temporarily be protected from deportation. 
 
"We urge President Obama to undertake reforms that are more LGBT-inclusive, such as recognizing length of residency as a stand-alone qualification. Thousands of LGBT immigrants, many who have fled countries where LGBT people are unprotected and subjected to horrific abuse and violence, have been waiting for humane immigration reform for years due to Congressional inaction and cannot afford to wait any longer.

In a separate statement, National Center for Lesbian Rights (NCLR) Policy Director Maya Rupert said that while she welcomed this "first step" towards ending the country's "broken and discriminatory" immigration system, more can be done to ensure the system is "inclusive and humane for all."

Said Rupert:

ImmigrationLGBT families are less likely to have legally recognized or biological relationships with each other, and thus relief based wholly on familial ties will exclude too many LGBT families. In addition, many of the restrictions requiring consistent employment and limiting access for people with non-violent criminal histories will disproportionately impact LGBT immigrants, especially in the transgender community.”


President Obama May Issue Executive Order on Immigration As Early As Next Week

Reports are coming in that President Obama will sign an exectuive order as early as next week that would protect up to 5 million undocument immigrants from the threat of deportation and provide many with work permits. 

Citing an unnamed administration official, The New York Times writes:

ObamaAsserting his authority as president to enforce the nation’s laws with discretion, Mr. Obama intends to order changes that will significantly refocus the activities of the government’s 12,000 immigration agents. One key piece of the order, officials said, will allow many parents of children who are American citizens or legal residents to obtain legal work documents and no longer worry about being discovered, separated from their families and sent away. [...]

Mr. Obama’s actions will also expand opportunities for immigrants who have high-tech skills, shift extra security resources to the nation’s southern border, revamp a controversial immigration enforcement program called Secure Communities, and provide clearer guidance to the agencies that enforce immigration laws about who should be a low priority for deportation, especially those with strong family ties and no serious criminal history.

Citing the political volatility of such an executive order, The Washington Post adds:

ImmigrationRepublicans have made very clear if Obama goes forward, it would be the equivalent of giving the middle finger to their incoming majority -- and, by extension, the American public that helped the GOP gain seats in the House and Senate. At a new conference held the day after last week's election, incoming Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) compared Obama signing an executive order on immigration to "waving a red flag in front of a bull." Speaker John A. Boehner (Ohio) said Obama will "burn himself" if he moves forward, and, on Thursday, promised to fight the move.


Glenn Beck: Republicans Will Lose on Immigration, Just Like They Did on Gay Marriage: VIDEO

Screen Shot 2014-11-07 at 7.44.23 AM

In a discussion on post-election politics with Bill O'Reilly the other day, Glenn Beck (in a rare moment of semi-lucidity) said Republicans would be wise to not pursue impeachment hearings against President Obama over immigration policy.

Said Beck:

They are going to do to illegals what they did to the debate on gay marriage. On gay marriage they made it about marriage and gay people. Instead, the argument should have been "Does government have a role in anybody's marriage?" But what they did is they personalized it so people said "I know I guy like Bob, he's fine!" They're going to do the same thing with illegal immigration and the Republican will lose that battle. 

O'Reilly, as always, disagreed - saying the two issues were unrelated and that the Republicans would win the immigration debate regardless.

Watch the segment, AFTER THE JUMP...

[via Crooks and Liars

Continue reading "Glenn Beck: Republicans Will Lose on Immigration, Just Like They Did on Gay Marriage: VIDEO" »


Gay Asylum Seekers In Australia Could Be Resettled In Anti-Gay Papua New Guinea: READ

Manus island PNG

Several gay asylum seekers in Australia who fled persecution in their home countries could be resettled in Papua New Guinea (PNG), where homosexuality is punishable by up to 14 years in prison, reports Time.

The asylum seekers are currently being held by Australian immigration on Manus Island in PNG, where they could eventually live permanently.

The Guardian claims to have seen six letters written in Farsi by four gay Iranian men in the detention center which appear to detail persecution in their home country and the fear of being resettled in PNG. The authenticity of the letters has not yet been confirmed.

In a suicide note to his mother, one of the men wrote:

Camp“I couldn’t return to Iran and be executed by the Iranian government. Hence living in PNG was not any better, because being gay is considered a crime in PNG as well, and the punishment for such crime is 14 years imprisonment.

“I am so sorry that I was born gay. I never meant to hurt you, mum.

“I wish our boat had sunk in the ocean and stopped me living the most painful year in my life.

“I thought Australia and its people would be my protector, but they taught me otherwise.”

The Guardian also obtained a copy of a Salvation Army orientation presentation shown to asylum seekers on Manus which shows a picture of two men kissing with a large red cross through it. The presentation warns:

“Homosexuality is illegal in Papua New Guinea. People have been imprisoned or killed for performing homosexual acts.”

According to Graeme McGregor, Amnesty Australia’s refugee-camp coordinator, the human rights group has “consistently raised the issue of gay men on Manus” with Australian immigration but “never had a clear response."

Ben Pynt, director of Humanitarian Research Partners, says there are around 36 gay men detained at Manus and several others who are too afraid to reveal their sexual orientation.

Australian Immigration Minister Scott Morrison said in December he was unaware of any claims of homosexuality among Manus inmates.

Morrison has also denied allegations in a December report by Amnesty International that detainees at the facility have been told that anyone found engaging in homosexual acts will be reported to the PNG police.

Earlier this year the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees raised concerns about the living conditions for asylum seekers being held at the Manus Island detention center.

Read two of the asylum seekers' letters, AFTER THE JUMP...

Continue reading "Gay Asylum Seekers In Australia Could Be Resettled In Anti-Gay Papua New Guinea: READ" »


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